ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
My own treatment was commodified, under the dictates of U.S. hyper-capitalism, to an extent that comparable treatment under socialized medicine is not. The total price for my surgery and related expenses
came to $144,000, or eight thousand dollars per inch of intestine removed.
Is Our High-Tech Health Care System Better Than War-Ravaged Sudan’s?
By David Morse
Four men were carrying someone down the road in a bed. I had encountered some strange things in southern Sudanseen malnourished children; nearly stepped on a large snake the color of pinkly opalescent milkbut nothing more compelling than this.
What impressed me as I struggled to catch up, was the speed at which they were moving, each man carrying a leg of the bed, which was constructed of rough-cut wood and a lattice of rope. I could see its occupant was a woman. The little procession walked with fierce determination, despite the sweltering heat and the mud.
Akon is a market town and a county seat in South Sudan, and this was the main road, but the rains had turned the red clay into a sea of braided puddles.
Finally they stopped and I was able to meet with them. I learned that the woman lived in an outlying village. Her husband and brother-in-law and other members of her extended family had carried her like that for two hours to get to a clinic here in Akon that consisted of a big shade tree and a meager stash of medicines — on the chance that someone could save her.
She was gaunt and feverish, suffering from abdominal pains. She told her story in Dinka and someone translated. She’d gone into labor, and after two days of contractions, the traditional midwife had determined that the birth canal was too narrow, and had cut the baby up and withdrawn the pieces. I wondered if something was left in her uterus or maybe she’d been cut. They looked to me hopefully. Lacking any medical training, I felt helpless. But I sent for my Dinka colleague, Chris Koor Garang, a “Lost Boy” who had become a U.S. citizen and a certified nurse. He’d brought medicines with him. Chris gave the woman an oral antibiotic and instructions for taking the remaining doses.
This was her seventh pregnancy; all had ended badly. The pills, condoms, and other birth control options that we take for granted in the industrial world were not available to her. Nor were the anti-diarrheal medications and routine vaccinations that save infant lives. South Sudan, torn by decades of colonialism and decades of war, has an estimated sixty percent infant mortality rate, about the highest in the world. Maternal mortality is also high: one in ten women dies giving birth. Miraculously, this woman lived. Now fast-forward two years, to last March. I was visiting my son in Vermont — which was fortunate, because when I experienced stomach pain and nausea, I could get to a local ER, and then be taken by ambulance to one of New England’s top-notch hospitals. There I underwent emergency removal of eighteen inches of small intestine that had become twisted and gangrenous.
I was lucky. Had I been traveling in South Sudan, we might have assumed I had some parasite. I never would have made it to an airport for transport to Nairobi in time for surgery. I wouldn’t be alive to write these words. As I lay in the Intensive Care Unit, emerging from a five-day medically induced coma, attached to various life-support systemsattended by a bevy of surgeons, anesthesiologists, pulmonologists, radiologists, and nursesI experienced a string of hallucinations. When my mind was finally clear, one image kept surfacing. It was that woman being carried down the road in the bed. We were fortunate, each in our own way. She had become for me an emblem of survival.
Our beds could not have been more different. Mine contained computer-driven air-pouches that pulsed in a manner designed to preserve muscle tone and prevent bedsores. It weighed probably 800 pounds. Was I grateful for the technology that saved my own life? Of course. But my point in recounting theses two stories is not to contrast a failed or non-existent healthcare delivery system with a successful one. On the contrary, that woman and I both represent failed systems. They’ve simply failed in different ways — the one from poverty, the other from profits. My own treatment was commodified, under the dictates of U.S. hyper-capitalism, to an extent that comparable treatment under socialized medicine is not. The total price for my surgery and related expenses came to $144,000, or eight thousand dollars per inch of intestine removed. Fortunately my expenses were covered — under Medicare, supplemented by the excellent private healthcare insurance my wife gets as a retired University of Connecticut professor. Our private plan is almost as good as that enjoyed by members of Congress. I was out hardly a dime.
My son in Vermont has no such coverage. He works as a chef in a small restaurant and is one of the estimated 47 million uninsured Americans. Like most, hes in debt. Too young for Medicare, and struggling to make ends meet, he lost his private healthcare coverage last June by failing to make a monthly payment on time. Others among our fellow citizens are denied coverage by private insurers because they are sick. Cancer, diabetes, or heart conditions make them “poor risks” for profit-driven companies. Still others have coverage tied to their employment, marital status, parents, or tuition payments. And finally, others are too poor to do more than put food on the table. In other words, it’s a completely insane system that makes sense only to those who reap profits from it. Is this any less bizarre than that woman being carried down the road to a clinic that barely exists? In short, it seems that we in the U.S. have shaped our technology, or allowed it to shape us, into a system which at its very essence is less humane than one ravaged by colonialism and war. This is why a “public option” must be central to any healthcare reform. It offers an alternative for the uninsured, while serving as a yardstick to measure the performance of a private healthcare industry notorious for its greed and runaway costs. This public option is precisely what Republicans and conservative Democrats want to strip from the reform package. Republican Senator Charles E. Grassley argues that a government-run plan “will ultimately force private insurers out of business,” and that its supporters are “trying to open a back door toward a fully government-run, or single-payer, health system like those in Canada or England.” Even as polls indicate that most Americans favor a public option, the Senate shows itself a rich mans club whose members are all too indebted to the healthcare industry. Two statistics are often quoted by President Obama in arguing the case for healthcare reform. One is that Americans pay one and a half times as much as citizens of other industrial nations, and have a lower life expectancy. The other: our spending on healthcare accounts for one sixth of our national economy. However, neither statistic adequately reflects what we do not spend individually because we can’t afford itthe inequity that translates into life or death for millions of Americans who, like my son, might not feel they had the luxury of going to the hospital. In my own mind, the image of that woman being carried down the road in such a determined fashion, despite the mud and heat, has taken on special meaning in the context of the present debate. It was the urgency that surrounded her. We could learn from that. We who may carelessly assume that our own system is somehow more “civilized,” simply because our resources are more abundant and our technology more sophisticated, need to rediscover our collective caringto understand access to healthcare as a basic human right.
David Morse is an independent journalist and political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Russell Simmons
Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock market. True wealth has more to do with what’s in your heart than what’s in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America’s shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, “Happy can make you money, but money can’t make you happy.”
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 15 October 2009